Tuesday, July 15, 2014

And the problem with authority is ... what?

Ed LaBar comments on the previous post that I made "a blatant appeal to authority when you ask whether or not the drafters of the 14th intended for it to cover same sex marriage." He was referring to the question I asked Chris Hartman when he claimed the 14th amendment somehow required that marriage be a genderless institution.

My initial response to Ed was this:
What is the problem with appealing to authority? Appealing to judicial precedent is an appeal to authority; appealing to research is an appeal to authority; appealing to the language of the Constitution is an appeal to authority. 
What's your problem with authority?
Ultimately, of course, everything is based on authority at some point, even if it's the authority of the senses (and even that Rene Descartes brings into question).

Liberals like to pretend to question authority. It's like wearing a Che T-shirt: It gives you all the appearance of being stylishly revolutionary, but it costs you absolutely nothing.


Ed LaBar said...

I certainly did not expect to see an entire blog post on me when I woke up this morning.

I have no problem with authority in and of itself. I do have a problem with acting like authority has the last word on what is true, good, or right, which was what you were doing. And I'll go one further and say that your opponent in the video is appealing to authority, too, when he cites the 14th. But I should have elaborated earlier, and I'll make up for that now.

"I've got other responses to your point, but one is simply this: What is the problem with appealing to authority? Appealing to judicial precedent is an appeal to authority; appealing to research is an appeal to authority; appealing to the language of the Constitution is an appeal to authority."

I actually agree with everything said here. What I will not agree with is the idea that having authority makes one's claims valid. The Dredd-Scott decision is a judicial precedent; should we say "well shucks, that's an authoritative claim and we should bow ourselves morally to the whims of people who think black men and women are property"? Research can have poor methodology, it can be poorly interpreted, or it can be entirely fabricated. We shouldn't trust research findings because of their "research-findingness". We trust good research findings because of their scientific rigor. If I find published research that's friendly to my viewpoint but doesn't adhere to the scientific method, I'll discard it. Do you know how many easy outs bad science could give me in an argument?

What morally serious person, when talking about what is right, points to some book or wielder of power and says "well the Constitution says..."? We should judge the value of the Constitution not on its oldness, or who wrote it, or why it was written, but on its value to government. That's why we AMEND the document! A lot of people don't even know how much wheedling and fighting and arguing it took to get the Bill of Rights into the Constitution. Would we praise the constitution if it had no protections for freedom of religion or against involuntary searches or seizures? Should we?

And as for the cheap Che Guevara dig, you're half wrong. I will question any authority I disagree with; there is no pretense here. I don't subject myself to political orthodoxy. I'll say plainly that Obama is responsible for the dismantling of privacy, that Hillary Clinton is a racist, that the leaders of the Democratic party are still willful defenders of a callous status quo. I will admit to being what modern American political discourse calls a liberal, although I am not a liberal by the classical definition.

Martin Cothran said...


I devoted a post to your comment because it was worth devoting a post to. Most people don't understand that the fact that I bother to argue with them at all is to some extent a compliment. Bringing it back out the main page means more readers will see it and I thought the pointed warranted discussion.

You also seem like a serious and generally rational person with whom it would be worth having a dialogue with (Something it seems to be harder to find these days).

You say your problem is that what you have a problem with is the idea that "authority is the last word on the subject." I take that as an indication that you think I think it is the last word on the subject, which, of course, I don't.

The warrant of authority is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition to showing something right or wrong, rational or irrational. But that doesn't mean it is not relevant to an argument. It can certainly play a part of the warrant for a conclusion.

You seem to think the same thing, in which case the question becomes why you think I think otherwise. I used it as an important consideration in weighing what the 14th amendment means. It's not dispositive, but if we knew (as I think we do) that the people who wrote it, the representatives of the states who ratified it, and the people who voted for the representatives whose states ratified it did not intend for it to have anything to do with validating same-sex marriages, I think that is a relevant consideration in deciding what it means.

That's all. Same-sex marriage is not enumerated in the 14th amendment. The position that the 14th amendment somehow supports forcing states to allow for same-sex marriages cannot be supported by the language alone. That position is an inference from the language that involves other assertions that may or may not be true in a chain of inference that may or may not be valid.

In other words, if the words of the 14th amendment don't force you to the conclusion that same-sex marriage should be forced on states, and the people who wrote and passed it didn't intend it to do that in the first place, then you'd better have a good argument for saying it does.

I don't think same-sex marriage supporters have a good argument.

That's all.

KyCobb said...

Well the 14th Amendment is clearly legal authority that is appropriate to appeal to in a courtroom. But that wasn't the authority Martin was appealing to. Instead he was asking us to imagine how 19th century white men would react to 21st century legal cases that would never had occurred to them would arise. The 14th Amendment codifies into the Constitution equal protection of the law, a timeless legal principle which can and should be applied in situations which would not have occurred to people 150 years ago. It doesn't bake into the Constitution cultural norms of the 19th century. The 14th Amendment has nothing to say about that, and trying to imagine how a 19th century white man would've reacted to an issue which probably never entered his mind is not part of the process of determining if a person is entitled to equal protection of the law or not.

Seamus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seamus said...

I always find it amusing how many people, who in other contexts probably scoff at the argument from authority, regard the APA's removal of homosexuality from the DSM as the last word on whether there is anything psychologically askew about wanting to copulate with someone of the same sex.

KyCobb said...

I doubt most people even know it was dropped from the DSM or that is was ever there in the first place. Instead people are aware from their personal knowledge of lgbt friends and relatives that they are normal people who just want to live their lives like anyone else does.

Martin Cothran said...


If you could put that into an acronym, it would have the scientificky sound to it that the argument the APA approves it has.